MADISON, Wis. — With confidence bruised and doubts swirling, the Husker volleyball team needed a win Sunday at Wisconsin to stop its slide of three straight five-set road losses.
No. 9 Nebraska got its victory, making quick work of the Badgers 25-17, 25-20, 25-18, but maybe more important was the balanced effort that got it done.
With contributions from every key player, the Huskers (21-6, 13-5) hit .351, their best attack percentage in 10 matches since hitting .396 the last time they played Wisconsin on Oct. 12.
“They needed to take some ownership of how they were going to play today, and I think they did a fantastic job as a team. As a team, they did it today,” Nebraska coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview.
The coach knew Sunday’s match would show him a lot about his players’ resiliency after the Huskers dropped a five-set match at Minnesota on Friday night in which they failed to capitalize on big leads in each of the final two sets.
But Sunday, it was Nebraska that created decisive runs in each set to overcome deficits for its first sweep since Oct. 21 at Illinois.
“I think they’re happy because these matches mean a lot right now,” Cook said. “They mean a lot for our psyche, our confidence, and what we’re made of. Friday night ... we’ve been playing these five-gamers, and we’ve lost three (straight) five-gamers on the road. At some point, you start having some major doubts if you can get it done. To come in and play the way we did today is going to give them a big shot of confidence.”
It was a get-well kind of match, with Nebraska striking a blow to the hopes of Wisconsin (17-14, 5-13) making the NCAA tournament. Senior outside hitter Hannah Werth led the Huskers with 15 kills and hit .407. Junior opposite hitter Morgan Broekhuis had an efficient night with 12 kills and one error on 25 swings.
Nebraska’s middle blocker tandem of junior Hayley Thramer and freshman Meghan Haggerty rebounded from a difficult night against Minnesota in which the pair combined to hit .135. Sunday, they had 16 kills between them while each hitting .500 or better.
Defensively, five Huskers had at least eight digs to spearhead an effort that held the Badgers to a .145 attack percentage. Setter Lauren Cook, libero Lara Dykstra and Gina Mancuso each had 10 digs.
“My favorite thing is when we play really well as a team, like today when everybody hits on all cylinders, we play really good volleyball,” Cook said. “We play like I can envision us playing. They work hard. They’re trying. When I see them play at their best, that’s my favorite part.”
Likely needing a win to remain in the NCAA tournament conversation, Wisconsin saw two of its best players stymied. Leading attacker Ellen Chapman was benched for the third set after totaling two kills and two errors on 13 swings in the first two games. Senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell led the Badgers with eight kills but also had five attack errors and hit .120.
“We’ve done a great job on Mitchell both times we’ve played them,” Cook said. “We feel she’s the heart and soul of that team. You get her on fire and everybody is going to take off, so you have to stop her.”
Nebraska (21-6, 13-5) ................. 25 25 25
At Wisconsin (17-14, 5-13) ................. 17 20 18
NU (kills-aces-blocks): Werth 15-1-2, Broekhuis 12-0-2, Haggerty 9-0-2, Thramer 7-0-3, Mancuso 6-1-0, Cook 3-0-0. Totals 52-2-9.
UW: Mitchell 8-0-4, Reshel 7-0-1, Ording 6-0-5, Mikaelsen 5-1-1, Thomas 3-0-4, Graff 3-0-0, Chapman 2-0-2, Morales 1-0-0. Totals 35-2-17.
Set assists: NU 47 (Cook 44, Broekhuis 1, Werth 2), UW 33 (Thomas 27, Reshel 1, Mikaelsen 1, Hickey 1, Morales 2, Kvas 1).